Friday, August 03, 2012


So I fell down on the job about making a last post from Russia. Nonetheless, the trip back to Moscow was smooth, and for the most part the trip home was as easy as might be expected, given the joys of flying anywhere from any New York airport on any given rainy day. (N.b., Southwest is pretty awesome.)

When I finally hit the ground in Louisville, I had an excellent welcoming committee, pictured:

Jet lag, I think, has been more or less conquered: I managed to survive a trip the next day to Cincinnati for a Reds game (Go Redlegs!) without falling asleep once!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Karelian Vacation

As this Russia trip winds down its final week, I'm off to take in a new part of the country - Karelia. I took an overnight train from Moscow two nights ago to Petrozavodsk. I'm here as a guest of a friend and fellow UNC grad student, Cassandra, who just arrived here to begin some field research.

The city is relatively small, in many regards not too different from most regional centers in Russia. It's located a 5-6 hour train ride NE from Petersburg, in the part of Russia that, from a natural standpoint, is much like Finland.

The city itself is on the shores of a large lake, Onega, and there are literally tens of thousands of others in the region.

Also, as you might imagine, there are many birch trees (not pictured).

The people speak Russian, although some have heritage in the local Karelian culture, which is very similar in language to Finnish, although it ended up on the Russian side of the border in various 20th century border shifts.

Mostly it's cool, rainy, with long days and short nights. The sun goes down about 11:30 right now and is up again around 4:30. This all lends itself to taking walks along the lake when the weather is nice.

And staying inside to drink coffee when it is not. Which is a large reason for today's blog post.

The rest of the next few days will be, I imagine, spent much the same way, although there is a rafting trip in the works for Saturday and a few other adventures, weather permitting.

Updates and last post before departing for home to come soon!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Stavropol Post 1.1

There's not a whole lot to add about my stay here. The work in the archives has been pretty fruitful. I've found a few places, like a decent coffee house, in which to hang out. I've taken several long walks and runs around the city.

A couple of pictures, just for fun. One thing that has been different is the weather. I guess that, having read one too many reports from Soviet bureaucrats complaining about the regular droughts in the region (parts of it get drought as many as 2-3 out of every five years), I expected Stavropol' itself to be dry, hot, and dusty. In fact, that's night the case at all, since it is in the wetter, western part, and is at a higher elevation.

I didn't bring an umbrella with me from Moscow and then it proceeded to rain, summer late-afternoon thunderstorm style, for something like ten days straight. Luckily, I was saved by the waterproof jacket I brought along.

Here's what one of the storms looked like, from the window of my hostel room:

And the room itself, too:

It's not big, but it has a refrigerator and a fairly comfortable bed. I've no reason to complain.

In any event, I'm leaving Stavropol' in a couple of days time, to be nomadic again for a bit: I'll be back in Moscow for a few days, off to visit a friend in Karelia, and then back to Moscow just in time to catch my plane back to the US!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Stavropol', City of Parks, Crosses, and Archives

The train ride from Moscow to Stavropol was long and, thanks to the lack of air conditioning, uncomfortable. However, it went as well as can be expected, and I was lucky to have pleasant neighbors in my compartment.

It turns out that my apprehensions about finding a decent place to stay and about working in the archives of the city were, although not completely ungrounded, quickly put to rest. I’ve found a modest hostel-style hotel, located about fifteen minutes walk from the further of two archives. This archive as I was afraid, had been undergoing remodeling, but when I arrived last Wednesday, they were open and I’ve had no problems at all. I’m optimistic that a productive few weeks there will be a good way to finish my research here before heading home at the beginning of August.
I don’t, as yet, really know anyone in the city, so what little free time I have outside working in the archives I’ve devoted to exploring the city just a little. My first impressions, as I hope the pictures below will convey, is that it is very green and full of parks and other quiet spots. It is slightly larger than Vladimir, where I lived before, and seems to be a little bit better off economically.

First, the green and the parks:

Like so many cities, reconstruction of the city's Orthodox cathedral is a major project.
Obligatory WWII memorial. The city itself was, in fact occupied by the Germans for about six months during the war.

Civil War memorial.

View from the old part of the city toward the later Soviet districts.

The city's main theater, with a sign proudly announcing the close of the 167th season. That's a pretty long run!

A little taste of the parks. And the side of the city administration building.
It’s the center of a large region, in fact a krai in Russian, rather than oblast’. All that this means, as far as I can tell, is that there are different subdivisions within the territory, which include the autonomous region of a national group, rather than just the regular districts.
In any event, it’s a relatively new city: the official date is 1777. The city itself sits atop a high point, one of the first foothills of the Caucasus, at some 600 m above sea level. This made it a good place for a Cossack outpost, or stanitsa, and later a major military and administrative center during the period of the Russian Empire’s expansion further south during the late 18th and first half of the 19th centuries.
As an interesting side-effect, many of the Russian language’s early literary names passed through the city, having been banished to the South from the capital. Thus the city boasts statues, to mention a few, in honor of Aleksander Sergeevich, milyi:
(. . . which is to say, Pushkin. Reference, here.)
as well as the Romantic poet and playwright Lermontov:

The city's name, according to the story, comes from the Greek for "city of the cross," even though there is no relation to the Greeks. The story was that a large stone cross was unearthed on the site during the construction of the first fortress in the late 18th century. Thus the city's seal and this statue in one central square. I daresay it is of post-Soviet origin:

Later, when things settled down, the region’s agriculture gained in importance, and the wealthy flocked to the nearby spas and mineral springs.
By the Soviet period, the territory was home to an enormous agricultural sector—the reason why I am here. After WWII, it added gas extraction and transit between the Caspian basin and the Black Sea to the list of local sources of wealth and jobs.
Also, there is the obligatory Lenin, standing guard in front of the territorial parliament, or duma:

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Viktor Tsoi at 50

I saw this poster the other day in Vilnius:

And it was only seeing this memorial show advertised that I realized that today, June 21, Viktor Tsoi would have turned 50.

I just did a YouTube search to choose a video to embed here, and I want to embed them all. Here's one, "Группа крови", or "Blood Type," but go look for more yourself. [Pro tip: If you don't speak Russian, there are loose translations here.]

There are a number of sides to Tsoi's music and image, some run toward too young, too brash, and too cool, others toward a political voice in a time that called out for them. Romantic, sad, rarely joyous. And, to top it off, a talent for lyrics matched by only a select few in the substantial history of Russian verse.

I was first exposed to Tsoi in, if I recall correctly, my second semester of Russian, or nearly ten years ago. Since then, I've spent a lot of time listening and learning the words, and have not a few words, phrases, and grammar constructions that I learned to use properly from a particular line of his.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Vilnius: Part the Fifth

Another update of what I was up to my last few days in Vilnius, and just some pictures I happened to like.

If you remember back from a couple of posts ago, I posted two pictures of a park, one of which included mass bubble-blowing. Well, on Saturday night, after I returned from Kaunas, it got better. As part of a city wide cultural festival that included films, installations, museum open-houses, and open-air musical performances, this part featured a stage with a series of pianists performing selections of roughly one-half hour from 9:00 pm to 1:00 am. This is convenient because the one of the major music academies in the country is right across the street.
As you can tell from the pictures, the evening could not have been better, nor the sky bluer.

I recently was shown by one of my gracious hosts a part of the city I can only describe as "funky." Užupis means "Over the River" in Lithuanian, and refers to a small quarter of the city, near the old town, separated from it by this river:

[Jessa and Doug, note the kayakers, I see an opportunity to expand!]

It's got winding narrow streets, a sort of shabby feel and artsy community that is pretty cool. Apparently this was once the poorest part of the city, but once the artists started moving in, they helped ensure that basic services and measures were provided by all.

Also, they have a constitution:

These I merely submit under the rubric: "pictures I think are pretty."

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Vilnius, Part the . . . Well, Actually It's Kaunas

Yesterday was Saturday and since I have the weekend before returning to Russia, I decided to take a daytrip to Kaunas. It took just over an hour on a brand-new, Czech made, double-decker train, which cost me about six bucks each way. I'll post a bit more about my last day or two in Vilnius in the next post, but for now, a quick few pictures about yesterday.

Kaunas [Kowno, Ковно, etc] has an old town which dates from the 15th and 16th centuries. There's a little bit of Baroque from the period that follows, and from the 19th century, when it was part of the Russian Empire. What I was not expecting to find was the substantial amount of Constructivism, which I found on my walk from the train station to the Old Town. I suspect that it has to do with the status that Kaunas enjoyed as the "temporary" capital of interwar Lithuania, when Vilnius was part of the Polish Republic.

This is the old town hall, in the center of the old city. This was, thanks to its location at the confluence of the Naris and the Neman Rivers, a likely place for a city.
Baroque church.
Castles! As I said, 14th-16th centuries, to control the rivers. Also, can a sky get any bluer?
Weddings in the town square, an obligatory sight on a Saturday afternoon.
Also obligatory, a modest conveyance for one of the at least half-dozen wedding parties. Not long after this, a large party boat - which I'm pretty sure was a converted freight barge - pulled up and everyone hopped on. Paaaartaaaay!
But then again, it's not so dissimilar from the courthouse square in older American towns, right?
Also, cute phonebooths.
A cool old building that appears to have been converted to new uses one or two times. Now it's a bookshop on one side and a bistro on the other. I also grabbed a delicious lunch on the other side of the street.

And just a few examples of the constructivist architecture. Some of it needs a little love, but it is in remarkably good shape on the whole.

Today a post office.